Understanding eye health
Today many people work long hours in front of a computer taking breaks from work to scroll on their electronic devices. Post work relaxation time is often an evening watching Netflix. The overuse of artificial lighting has increased, and cities pollution levels are unacceptably high. All these factors place great stress on the eyes resulting in dry or burning eyes, vision related issues or headaches.
Our eyes evolved to deal with natural sunlight not the unnatural light emitted from electronic devices or artificial lighting. We absorb and assimilate so much information through our eyes that the constant overstimulation becomes overwhelming and stressful, not just for the eyes but for our nervous system too (5).
Ayurveda is the oldest health science in the world primarily focusing on the prevention of disease. The symbol of Ayurveda is the lotus flower. The eight petals represent each one of the eight branches of Ayurveda, one of which is Shalaka Tantra, that had ayurvedic physicians who specialised in the eye thousands of years ago (9).
How does the eye work?
In Ayurveda, there are three primary life forces that are responsible for all physical and psychological functions in the body. These are known as the doshas, vata (movement), pitta (transformation) and kapha (structure) (9). Each dosha has five sub-doshas located in different areas of the body which all perform specific functions (1).
Ayurveda describes the physiology of vision as based on vata and pitta dosha (13). Kapha is also important for eye health. It’s subdosha, tarpaka kapha, lubricates the nerves, brain and sense organs (1).
Vata controls all movement within the body and mind (5). It is the key factor for visual processing and clarity. Vata plays a role in every phase of vision (13).
Pitta is the principle of transformation (5). Its sub-dosha alcohaka pitta, which is seated in the eye, enables us not just to see things but to also perceive and analyse them. It has two components. Chakshur vaisheshika which is confined to the anatomical eye and helps visual perception. Buddhir vaisheshika is located beyond the eyes in the brain and helps in interpretation and recollection of memories (13).
According to Ayurveda the body is composed of seven dhatus (tissues layers) which provide structure and function.
The seven dhatus listed in order of nutrient metabolism (9)
- Rasa – plasma
- Rakta – blood
- Mamsa – muscle, skeletal, visceral
- Medas – fat or adipose
- Ashti – bone
- Majja – marrow and nerve
- Shukra – reproductive
It is rakta dhatu that directly aids the visual process. The term rakta here doesn’t imply blood but the structure that aids the functional aspect of vision (13).
The quality of rakta dhatu is dependent on the quality of the first dhatu, rasa. Rasa builds itself from digested food that has been transformed in to a nourishing essence. It then refines this essence and passes it to rakta dhatu to build itself. This process is repeated though all the dhatus (1).
When we look at an object, light is reflected off the object and into the eye through the cornea which casts an inverted image on the retina. Prana vata (sub-dosha of vata), with help from alochaka pita, carries the light particles through the optic nerve into the occipital cortex, which contains sadhaka pitta. The correct interpretation of visual perception is due to the working integration of alochaka pitta from the retina and sadhaka pitta from the brain. (5)
When we look at an object, light is reflected off the object and into the eye through the cornea which casts an inverted image on the retina. Prana vata, with help from alochakapita, carries the light particles through the optic nerve into the occipital co
Understanding the root
The classical ancient texts of Ayurveda place great emphasis on the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The eyes are ranked the most important sense, so great care should be taken to protect the eyes throughout life (10) ensuring that they are kept cool and lubricated (1). If the blinking of the eyes becomes less frequent than normal, then this cooling and lubricating process becomes disturbed (2).
The health of our eyes depends on our doshas, dhatu (body tissues) and agni (digestive fire) (1) all of which are negatively impacted by unhealthy lifestyle, lack of sleep, suppression of natural urges (sneezing, urinating, etc) and exposure to aggravating factors such as dust, smoke and heat (10).
Our health depends largely on how well we can digest and absorb the nutrients from our food with the help of digestive enzymes known as agni (digestive fire) (9).
The sub-dosha pachaka pitta, located in the gut, governs the enzymes that enable digestion to take place (agni). This is the main form of pitta which supports all other pitta sub-doshas so any imbalances in pachaka pitta will also affect them. The dhatu-agni (tissue) are also affected by any imbalances in pachaka pitta as without good essence the dhatus are unable to build good quality tissues (1).
While vitiated doshas are the cause of disease, it is weak dhatu’s that become the sites for disease (1).
Vata is responsible for all movement. It moves prana, blood, nerve pulses and nutrients around the body. Vitiated vata can cause problems with transportation of signals to the brain creating difficulties with vision. It can also lead to dryness of the eye due to issues with blinking (5).
Degenerative eye disorders are a result of pitta vitiation. Imbalances in pachaka pitta (digestion) impacts ranjaka pitta (liver and blood) which disrupts the supply of nutrients to the eye (1).
Imbalances in alochaka pitta influences retinal function. Imbalances in sadhaka pitta causes problems in the processing of images in the brain. Too little alochaka pitta results in deficiency of function due to poor nutrient absorption. Too much alochaka pitta causes damage from hyperacidity (10).
Kapha governs the physical structure of the eye and lubrication (5).
It is said that the eyes fear kapha as kapha is the water element that can put fire out. If kapha increases in the head or body, it can reduce alochaka pitta. Keeping kapha in balance is vital for good eye health (1).
Excess kapha cause stickiness, mucous discharge, puffiness, glaucoma, corneal opacity or leads to deposits of kapha molecules that form cataracts (5).
When the eyes are clear, it is a good sign that digestion and liver function are working well. If the liver is overburdened and pitta is increasing quickly, the whites of the eyes will have a yellow colour. (9).
In Ayurveda, there are 76 different types of eye disease. Ten are due to vata disorder, ten are due to pitta disorder, and thirteen are due to kapha disorders. Sixteen are due to rakta dhatu (blood tissue) disorders, twenty-five are due to disturbances in all three doshas with the remaining two down to external causes (5).
To prevent eye problems, good lifestyle practices should be followed along with a correct diet that takes into consideration the individual’s constitution and digestive function. When the digestive system is optimal and the doshas in balance, all areas of the body and mind are enhanced, including the eyes (9).
Signs and symptoms
- Red eyes
- Night blindness
- Light sensitivity
- Dry eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Blurred or distorted vision
Serious eye problems are often painless, so if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or have any concerns about your eyes then get your eyes examined as soon as possible.
Always seek advice from a qualified Herbalist or Ayurvedic Practitioner as to what herbs are suitable for your constitution, correct dosage and how to take them. Herbs are usually combined in formulas for more effective results.
Triphala is probably the most famous Ayurveda powder. It is renowned for eye health as it helps enhance alochaka pitta. Triphala consists of three fruits, haritaki, amalaki and bibhitaki, which balance all three doshas. Triphala is high in antioxidants, which help to prevent eye damage caused by free-radicals and oxidative stress. It is also anti-inflammatory, cleans the bowel, enhances digestion and absorption. It has a strengthening and nutritive effect on rakta dhatu as well as improving liver function.
Triphala powder can be taken internally before bed or used as an eyewash for inflamed or sore eyes. Boil 1 teaspoon of triphala in one cup of water for 3 minutes. Cool and then strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to remove the particles. Rinse the eyes with the liquid.
Rosewater is the water left over from the production of rose essential oil. As rose water is cooling and anti-inflammatory, it helps to soothe irritated or inflamed eyes and to reduce puffiness. Rose also relives excess sadhaka pitta and clears excess pitta and ama from rakta dhatu (blood), and can be used as an eyewash though you must be certain it is a natural rose water extract and not a synthetic formulation often found in shops (8).
Licorice is used with ghee for degenerative eye conditions and dry eyes. It is excellent for inflammation, is a remarkable restorative and rasayana (rejuvenate). Licorice reduces excess vata, pitta and ama from rasa and raktu dhatu. It soothes pachaka pitta, is beneficial for ranjaka pitta and supports the livers cleansing work and binds to toxic chemical to draw them from the body (9).
Black cumin seed calms the mind, cleanses ranjaka pitta, helps inflammatory eye disorders and pitta type headaches when used as nasya. It also enhances digestion and clears ama from all dhatus (8).
Bhringaraj (Eclipta Alba)
Bhringaraj is a marvellous antioxidant that benefits the eyes greatly. It balances vata and pitta clearing excess pitta from rakta dhatu and balancing sadhaka pitta. It improves digestion and absorption, clears ama and regulates ranjaka pitta so is excellent for liver problems (9).
Shatavari is cooling, moistening and soothes dry, inflamed mucus membranes such as the eyes. It is nutritive and rejuvenate for the eyes, as well as promoting good gut health. Not to be taken if there is ama or high kapha. Taking Shatavari with milk is recommended for good eye health (11).
Neem is an excellent detoxifying herbs which helps to stimulate agni and clear ama. It cools heat in the mind and cools pachaka pitta. It clears excess pitta and ama from rasa and rakta dhatus. Avoid with high vata (8).
This is a classical Ayurveda formula consisting of many herbs formulated according to the principles of panchakarma. The main ingredients are ghee and triphala. It is used to treat and manage a variety of eye disorders. This should only be taken under guidance of an Ayurveda doctor or practitioner (14).
Regular eye breaks
When working, set an alarm every 40 minutes as a reminder to take a break from the screen. Gaze at a distant object or nature such as trees, birds, plants, flowers to help restore balance to the eye.
Invest in blue light screen protection and glasses which will reduce the amount of blue light that you are exposed throughout the day.
Dim household lights in the evening or use candles to help relax the eyes.
Relaxation not distraction
Swap scrolling on social media, watching TV or other device time for relaxing baths, walks in nature, yoga, meditation, candle gazing, reading or journaling. Time in nature is especially good for calming vata and relaxing the mind.
Trataka (candle gazing)
Traditionally, Ayurveda recommends using a ghee candle as it is believed that the golden glow of the candle and its flame will boost the immunity as well as soothe the eyes (3). Focus your awareness on the flame to calm the mind, soothe and strengthen the eyes (3).
Castor oil or ghee drops
Put one drop of castor oil in each eye before bed to help soothe dry, inflamed, itchy or irritated eyes. At first there may be a little blurriness in the eyes after application, but this will pass shortly. If the blurriness continues or if there is any irritation, then discontinue use. Only do this with the guidance of a practitioner. Also rub 1 teaspoon of the oil on to the soles of your feet (4).
Netra basti should only be carried out by a qualified Ayurveda practitioner or doctor. It is a superb treatment that enhances eyesight, counters fatigue and heaviness in the eyes, dry eyes and retinal deterioration.
A dough ring is formed around each eye with either plain ghee or ghee enriched with herbs poured into the ring. The eyes remain open submerged in the ghee for 10-20 minutes. During this time all the dust, mucus and other impurities trapped within the eyes come out. It also relives tension within the eyes and eye sockets which will help to relax the whole face (3).
Herbal oils applied through the nose is beneficial for the eyes as the oil helps to expel excess doshas from the head. Ayurveda recommends nasya as part of dinacharya (daily routine). Black cumin seed oil is particularly good for the eyes, as is Anu Thailam oil (combination of many herbs).
Anjana is a thick eyeliner made with medicinal ingredients such as camphor, rose, ghee and coconut oil. It is also called collyrium. This has been used traditionally in Ayurveda to prevent and treat many eye disorders (5).
Surya Namaskar (Salutation to the sun)
The sun represents energy, power and vitality. Surya Namaskar is the best yoga practice for eyes, mind and body. Its asanas help increase blood flow towards the face and eyes, improving eyesight and boosting overall eye health. Surya Namaskar contains eight asanas woven into a sequence of 12 steps for each side (4).
This helps to sooth alochaka pitta and the optic nerve. Rub your hands together until some heat is built up, place hands over the yes without placing any pressure on them, take several deep grounding breaths to connect to the quality of earth and cooling quality of water, keeping the eyes closed take your hands away and then open the eyes slowly.
Diet should be adjusted depending on which doshas need to be balanced and on digestive function.
Colourful vegetables and fruits such as pomegranate, cranberry, beetroot and antioxidants are beneficial to the eyes (12).
Vitamin A is important for healthy eyes, chronic deficiency causes many eye disorders and also immune deficiency which will increase susceptibility to other diseases. Ayurveda uses ghee in many formulations and treatments. Ghee is a good source of vitamin A (13). Organ meats are also high in vitamin A. Carrots are all good sources of beta-carotene which the body then converts to vitamin A (12).
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